Eat Well for a Healthy Mind
Updated: Apr 13
These foods and nutrients have been shown to improve mood, symptoms of despression and anxiety.
In one of my previous blogs on exercise and happiness, I highlighted the 4 main hormones/chemicals released from exercise that cause happiness. This post will look into the foods that stimulate those same brain responses. Though caution should be taken with any postulations about overall happiness, as that is incredibly difficult to measure, and even harder to account for external factors other than diet.
Please let me know any questions or addtions you have in the comments. Contact us for nutrition advice and counselling.
"Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive."
Endorphin Stimulating Foods
Similar to morphine in their chemical structure, endorphins are released during eating, exercise, sex, meditation and other pursuits. We therefore know how to release the chemical and its positive effects on anxiety, low-mood and depression. If exercise doesn't take your current fancy, and sex is not possible at the moment, these foods will help you boost your endorphin levels (1, 2).
Soybean Oil (3)
Foods that Increase Serotonin
As brain serotonin increases, food intake decreases (4). The chemical signals to the Melanocortin receptors to stop eating or not to eat (5). The following foods are believed to increase serotonin levels and could therefore help control body weight, they are reliant on both Vitamin D, and Omega-3 Fatty acids (EPA and DHA) (6):
Organic DHA Microalgae Oil (7)
Chicken and Turkey (8)
Similarly to serotonin, as oxytocin levels increase the desire for reward foods decreases (9). This has been shown to decrease rates of obesity (10). Which foods therefore stimulate an oxytocin release? Well, it's more about how you eat:
Sharing Food (11)
Soothing Music that you enjoy (12)
Low sugar foods (13)
Dopamine Response to Foods
Dopamine is the main reward hormone in the brain, it was related to food rewards initially by Pavlov in 1928. This chemical makes people feel happy and motivates you to pursue more of the behaviour or food that caused it. Here are some foods related to the production of dopamine, and can also decrease levels too:
Protein (Phenylalanine / tyrosine) (14)
Less Staurated Fats (15)
Many of the studies used in the research for this article were based on rats, mice, piglets and chimpanzees, they are not all directly proven for humans. You'll need to dig into the references for further information.
1. Rokade, P. B. (2011). Release of endomorphin hormone and its effects on our body and moods: A review. In International Conference on Chemical, Biological and Environment Sciences (Vol. 431127, No. 215, pp. 436-438).
2. Kelishadi, R. (2010). Cacao to cocoa to chocolate: healthy food?. ARYA Atherosclerosis, 1(1).
3. Matsumura, S., Eguchi, A., Okafuji, Y., Tatsu, S., Mizushige, T., Tsuzuki, S., ... & Fushiki, T. (2012). Dietary fat ingestion activates β‐endorphin neurons in the hypothalamus. FEBS letters, 586(8), 1231-1235.
4. Lam, D. D., Garfield, A. S., Marston, O. J., Shaw, J., & Heisler, L. K. (2010). Brain serotonin system in the coordination of food intake and body weight. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 97(1), 84-91.
5. Heisler, L. K., Jobst, E. E., Sutton, G. M., Zhou, L., Borok, E., Thornton-Jones, Z., ... & Lee, C. E. (2006). Serotonin reciprocally regulates melanocortin neurons to modulate food intake. Neuron, 51(2), 239-249.
6. Patrick, R. P., & Ames, B. N. (2015). Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior. The FASEB Journal, 29(6), 2207-2222.
7. Doughman, S. D., Krupanidhi, S., & Sanjeevi, C. B. (2007). Omega-3 fatty acids for nutrition and medicine: considering microalgae oil as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA. Current diabetes reviews, 3(3), 198-203.
8. Givens, D. I., & Gibbs, R. A. (2008). Current intakes of EPA and DHA in European populations and the potential of animal-derived foods to increase them: Symposium on ‘How can the n-3 content of the diet be improved?’. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67(3), 273-280.
9. Ott, V., Finlayson, G., Lehnert, H., Heitmann, B., Heinrichs, M., Born, J., & Hallschmid, M. (2013). Oxytocin reduces reward-driven food intake in humans. Diabetes, 62(10), 3418-3425.
10. Maejima, Y., Iwasaki, Y., Yamahara, Y., Kodaira, M., Sedbazar, U., & Yada, T. (2011). Peripheral oxytocin treatment ameliorates obesity by reducing food intake and visceral fat mass. Aging (Albany NY), 3(12), 1169.
11. Wittig, R. M., Crockford, C., Deschner, T., Langergraber, K. E., Ziegler, T. E., & Zuberbühler, K. (2014). Food sharing is linked to urinary oxytocin levels and bonding in related and unrelated wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1778), 20133096.
12. Nilsson, U. (2009). Soothing music can increase oxytocin levels during bed rest after open‐heart surgery: a randomised control trial. Journal of clinical nursing, 18(15), 2153-2161.
13. Mitra, A., Gosnell, B. A., Schiöth, H. B., Grace, M. K., Klockars, A., Olszewski, P. K., & Levine, A. S. (2010). Chronic sugar intake dampens feeding-related activity of neurons synthesizing a satiety mediator, oxytocin. Peptides, 31(7), 1346-1352.
14. Fernstrom, J. D., & Fernstrom, M. H. (2007). Tyrosine, phenylalanine, and catecholamine synthesis and function in the brain. The Journal of nutrition, 137(6), 1539S-1547S.
15. Cone, J. J., Chartoff, E. H., Potter, D. N., Ebner, S. R., & Roitman, M. F. (2013). Prolonged high fat diet reduces dopamine reuptake without altering DAT gene expression. PloS one, 8(3).